Sunday, May 31, 2009


Cakewrecks has put together a selection of gorgeous cakes based on children's books in their Sunday Sweets section.  I love the Pokey Little Puppy one!

Friday, May 29, 2009

Trouble me

I've got a longish commute, and nothing makes the time in the car fly by like listening to an audiobook (and what a great way to get caught up on all those books on my "to read" list!)

I got the impression this was supposed to take place in the late 70's, or possibly early 80's. I'd heard that the story takes place in Maine and deals with Cambodian immigration. Having grown up in Maine around Cambodian refugees myself, that was enough to hook me right there. It's not terribly often that Maine shows up as a locale (One Morning in Maine by Robert McCloskey, aside) in children's books so I was interested to see what Schmidt would have to say about it, and how the audiobook reader, Jason Culp, would make it sound.
I don't feel that Culp completely got the accent. It turns out the family is from Massachusetts. He sounds like a man trying to do a Boston accent and ALMOST getting it right. But it is very slightly off. He completely and totally got the pronunciation of "Penobscot" wrong, but everything else sounded passable. To anyone not from the area, it probably sounds great. The myriad of New England accents, subtly but noticeably shifting every few square miles are notoriously difficult to nail down.

The story contained a lot of very lyrical, writerly language. Beautiful descriptions of the sea, of grief, of the dog, of the mountain (Katahdin) of so many things.

But, I'm getting ahead of myself. The protagonist, Henry, from an upper crust New England family, is struggling to come to terms with things after his life falls apart. Franklin, his athletic older brother that he's idolized, is in a horrendous car accident when Cambodian Chay Chouan hits him with his truck. At first, Franklin is in a coma and has lost his arm, but eventually he succumbs to his injuries and passes away. Henry rescues a black dog and together, he and the dog work on healing themselves. As the small town of Blythebury-by-the-Sea erupts in racial tension over the incident, Henry decides to leave town. He plans to hike the summit of Mt. Katahdin in Maine, something his brother always wanted to do, accompanied by his private school classmate, Sanborn. They hitchhike and are picked up by -- of all people, Chay, who is also headed out of town. Henry really struggles with his grief and anger, but as he gradually realizes that Chay has been in love with his sister Louisa, he manages to forgive Chay for the accident. After a cathartic run-in with some racist Vietnam vets, a hike up Katahdin, the steady devotion of Black Dog and a reunion with his concerned parents, Henry is able to feel much more at peace.

In many ways, because of the use of allegory, foreshadowing and other literary devices, as well as the heavily all-male perspective, this story reminded me very much of of many of the classics studied in high school such as A Separate Piece, The Great Gatsby and To Kill a Mockingbird.

I had the feeling that this would be a "boy and dog" book the moment Black Dog came on the scene, but that didn't seem to completely be the case. The other characters, especially Sanborn, end up surprising us with a lot to contribute as well. Schmidt "shines a light" on any potential problems by having the characters bring everything right out in the open. The kids at school tease Henry for giving his dog the most ridiculously obvious name, "Black Dog" and he defends it. Within a few minutes, the name which sounded so silly seems the most natural and perfect name ever. All the plot points wind up tightly, but Schmidt writes skillfully enough to prevent it from seeming too unbelievable. It's a clockwork kind of book. Everything is neccessary. Black Dog turns out to be (of course) Chay's dog, who is now Henry's dog and an important element in healing the grief that troubles them both.

I loved this book, and I loved hearing it in audio format (despite the slightly imperfect accent) it made my long commute go by in a snap.

Wednesday, May 27, 2009

Girls just wanna have fun


Pinkilicious returns for a third installment of this very popular uber-girly series. The endpapers feature the titular star, a pure white unicorn with perfect rouged cheeks and flowing golden locks bedecked with flowers sitting amidst gold and white lace doilies. The title page features the author’s thanks, with dozens of names of family, friends, editors and other supporters woven into a series of chiaroscuro pink hills.

The magazine collage-style computerized illustrations are heavy on the girly details. Page after page is cluttered with flowers, toys strewn about, tea sets and other such girlish accoutrements. Her pet unicorn, which only she can see, pales away to a ghostly translucent shade of white whenever her family is nearby. This device somewhat reminded me of Calvin and Hobbes… although this book is a great deal less tongue-in-cheek, keeping things pretty simple and syrupy sweet. Pinkalicious and her brother traipse after Goldilicious through a number of locales: a picnic with screamingly green grass and flowers crowding in at the edges, a kiddie-pool where Goldie has dolled herself up in movie-star sunglasses and a fancy mermaid tail, a ride on a gorgeously swagged orange hot air balloon.

When Goldilicious goes missing, the hunt is on. Clouds shaped like unicorns and huge equine constellations are overlooked, 'til Pinkilicious finally finds Goldie right where her parents hoped she would… in bed, as bedtime approaches. The message is clear. Goldilicious might be imaginary… but Pinkilicious and her invisible friend aren’t going to be parted anytime soon. 

Fans of the indefatigable Pinkilicious will find nothing to disappoint them here. Parents or teachers who are looking for stories about an imaginary friend may do better to turn to the quieter Jessica by Kevin Henkes or the offbeat Clara and Asha by Eric Rohmann. Girls looking for further stories featuring feminine adventurers will probably also appreciate the Fancy Nancy series by Jane O’Connor.

Sunday, May 24, 2009

More Felt Board Fun

I am especially proud of this felt board. I think it came out looking great with a minimum of effort. For the bears, I simply ran brown felt through our die-cut machine using a mini-bears template, which worked just fine. I drew their little bear faces with permanent marker. The bed is a simple square, the bedposts are glued on the back. I struggled for a long while, trying to come up with some kind of quilt-y blanket for them to more clearly indicate "bed" but, finally, gave up on that, and added the two pillows which I think do the trick just fine.


10 bears in the bed... and the little one said... "I'm crowded! Roll over!" So, they all rolled over and one fell out, 9 bears in the bed...

When I finish up the song, I count the bears back into bed, ...8, 9, 10... and the little one said... "Good night!" Last time I did a storytime with this, the kids thought it was hilarious that one of the bears ended up sleeping upside-down.

Friday, May 22, 2009

One Lovely Blog Award

Thanks Eva, for awarding me with this lovely award!

Here is information about the award:
This award is given to new blogs and blogging friends.
The rules to follow are:
1) Accept the award, post it on your blog together with the name of the person who has granted the award and his or her blog link.
2) Pass the award to 15 other blogs that you’ve newly discovered. Remember to contact the bloggers to let them know they have been chosen for this award.

So, now I am to award 15 blogs.  Great googly-moogly!  I have to confess...  I don't know if I can honestly think of fifteen new and wonderful blogs.  Or, to put it more accurately, I certainly like to flit about checking out this blog and that, but when I start thinking about the sheer infinity of how much is out there it usually gives me a sensation of vertigo and reminds me of that ever-present feeling of mild panic which I continually suppress, "So. Many. Good. Books. To. Read.  Ack, ack, ack, how will I ever catch up??  (I won't.)  Aaaaaagh!"

Pretty soon, however, I started to get curious about where the award came from.  I think rather than nominating 15 new blogs, I'll take a look back at the last 15 to have won.  Here's where my sleuthing has led me so far.

1) I was nominated by Eva from Eva's Book Addiction, who was in turn nominated by,
2) Mrs. V's Reviews: A mom and middle-school teacher who reviews young adult fiction.
3) Pikealicious Books: Ashley, a librarian in Wisconsin, reviews books for children and teens.
4) Katie's Book Blog: Amazing blog, written by a 17 year old!  Want to know what teens are thinking?  Go straight to the source.
5) Black Rabbit Ink: Quotes, book reviews and more from aspiring writer, A.K.
6) Book Girl: Another amazing teen book reviewer!  She was actually nominated twice.  For my purposes, we'll follow the trail back from her original nomination, not the second one that came from Fantastic Book Reviews
7) Debbie's World of Books: She hosts frequent book give-aways and has already read an astonishing over 100 books (mostly YA) this year.  Wow.
8) True Crime Book Reviews: Yvette blogs all true crime, all the time.
9) Bella is Reading: Bella runs a couple of different blogs... this one is dedicated to her book reviews.
10) Mysteries in Paradise: Kerry is busy with the Agatha Christie Reading Challenge right now.  Check it out on her site.
11) Desert Rose: Musical, random, literary.
12) So Many Books, So Little Time: Contests, reviews, memes.  It's all here.
13) Wrighty's Reads: Debbie has lots and lots of contests with book give-aways.  And memes.  And book reviews.  It looks like she's been nominated a couple of times for the Lovely Blog Award (among several others).  But I believe the first nomination was from:
14) Book Bird Dog: Harvee reviews mysteries and other books.
15) Chick with Books: Suzanne runs a book club, and posts her thoughts about books she's reading.

Wow!  I start to feel a bit dizzy, when I think of all those blogs... and how they, in turn, link to at least a dozen or so more.  One might think that this was an award solely for book bloggers of all sorts, but it looks like that isn't so.  It's been making the rounds with us recently, but dig a little deeper, and I find it popping up in all kinds of places.  Mommy blogs.  Thrifty blogs.  Personal blogs.  Foodie blogs.

Right on!  Keep on blogging.  You're all lovely!

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

Tale of Despereaux

I must confess, I haven't read the original book, or seen the animated movie. I just finished reading this graphic novel adaptation and I came into it pretty darn skeptical... a comic book, based on the movie... based on the original novel? How good could it be? I have to say, I was pleasantly surprised. It's light-hearted and moves swiftly.  Obviously, it's a completely different animal than the original work, but taken completely on it's own merits it's pretty good.

The book opens with Roscuro the Rat, sailing in for the Kingdom of Dor's Royal Soup Day, which is apparently an even bigger celebration than Christmas. Chef Andre's top-secret to his sumptious soups is his helper, a magical being made of vegetables. Meantime, among the mice, an unusually brave and intrepid Despereaux is born. His teachers soon despair of teaching him how to cower and scurry as ordinary mice do, which is handled with a fair bit of humor. "Despereaux, there are so many wonderful things in life to be afraid of if you just learn how scary they are."

After the Queen accidentally drowns in a bowl of soup (it's handled in such a way that it's not nearly as gruesome as it sounds) the King outlaws soup and a gloom descends over the country. When Despereaux is exiled from his community for his continually un-mousy behavior (reading books, befriending princesses and the like) he and Roscuro team up and eventually bring soup (and happiness) back to the Kingdom of Dor.

The bold dark outlines in the artwork lend a hand-drawn feel to this digitally created piece. The style of the full-color drawings seems inspired by the film; just a bit more cartoonish and with a slightly muted palette.

I imagine I'll recommend this short 126 page graphic novel as a gateway drug to kids who can't seem to tear themselves away from Pokemon and other things of that ilk.

Monday, May 18, 2009

Sad News: Kathleen Zundell

I was devastated to open my e-mail this morning and learn that Kathleen Zundell, local storyteller and puppeteer has lost her long battle with lymphona. There's a more complete eulogy here.

She and I worked together for many years at Children's Book World in Los Angeles. She was an inspiration to me as I was finishing up my theatre degree and delving into the world of storytelling for children myself. She and I shared the same birthday -- New Year's Day. I'll remember her best with a twinkle in her eye; with her wacky puppet Philbert accompanying her, as she led children seated on the rug in a song.

She will be greatly missed.

Friday, May 15, 2009

Boys Need Books

Guys Lit Wire is hosting a bookfair to benefit the L.A. County Juvenile Justice system. They're partnering with the InsideOut Writers program and Powell's bookstore to gift much needed book titles to the program.

The donation program is a only a wee-bit more convoluted than ordering and donating a book from a major online bookseller, but I'm very impressed that they chose to work with an independent bookseller.

Access the Book Fair for Boys list through the main wish list page. Enter their email:
From there you can survey the list on one page and after you have made your selections, here is the mailing address:
Eve Porinchak
5850 Brookline Lane
San Luis Obispo, CA

All of the donated books MUST be paperbacks. No exceptions!

It looks as though there have been a lot of generous folk to the site already, but there's still plenty more titles available on the list to choose from.

Thursday, May 14, 2009

Pirates ahoy

It's about pirates... who are also the undead! It's about vampires... who sail the high seas! It's about... VAMPIRATES!

In this thrilling action adventure, twins Connor and Grace are bereft when their father dies and leaves them penniless. They quickly make their escape from an orphanage and sail away from the lighthouse island they grew up on. A sea storm later, Connor ends up on a pirate ship, while Grace ends up battling for her life on a vampire ship. Connor soon takes up sword-fighting lessons, which come in handy during several battles. Grace, on the other hand, must use her wits to puzzle out the mystery of what exactly is going on aboard the macabre vessel where she's being held captive. The story is told in alternating chapters, and while the twins are satisfyingly reunited in the end, it promises to be the beginning of a series. And, sure enough, British author Somper quickly followed the first book, Vampirates: Demons of the Ocean with three more; Tide of Terror, Blood Captain and Black Heart, just released this April.

The title certainly drew me in, and I think it's something with a lot of kid appeal, definitely. I'm a little surprised that I haven't had more requests for this series. I'm sure I'll be putting this in plenty of youngsters' hands this summer.

Saturday, May 9, 2009

Rumors vs. Reality

The Raucous Royals: Test your Royal Wits: Crack Codes, Solve Mysteries, and Deduce Which Royal Rumors are True

Kids are invited to sleuth through history revealing wild true stories and uncovering false rumors in this 64-page illustrated book.  The "story" is presented first and after turning the page, the "conclusion" True, False or Unconfirmed follows.  Although the illustrations are digital art, they have the textured feel of acrylics.  I was reminded very much of the work of Diane Stanley.  I also liked the yellow antique paper treatment on all the pages, and the faux gilt leather design on the cover.  There's a fair touch of humor, with wacky sidebars and speech bubbles over historical figures with silly comments.  For example, King Henry, peering at Anne of Cleves portrait is saying, "Ahh, yes.  I will marry her.  She is beautiful... I think?"  

My favorite page was the contest between dueling historians each making their case for Peter the Great, "Peter was a monster"  vs. "Peter was a saint" the best device I've seen yet for teaching critical thinking.   I see so many kids who are used to memorizing and spitting things back out for the test, and the format for this book seems perfectly geared for forcing kids to really think about things.  The book ends with a copious bibliography, and there's even an accompanying website for those who want to explore further.  

Thursday, May 7, 2009

Found in the donation bin...

Unlike most library branches, we have a little bookstore on the second floor, run by our Friends group, and so we have used books for sale available year-round, not just twice yearly at a big sale as other branches do. Because of this, a lot of our patrons know they can drop off boxes of books (and they frequently do) for us to either add to the collection, or sell.

I don't know if it's because of the recession, but our book donations seem to have quadrupled recently. Maybe folks are downsizing or getting rid of their rented storage space? Sadly, we get an awful lot of items that are completely beyond saving. People just can't bear to see a book go on the recycling heap, so they bring it to us, hoping we can do something with it. I've seen plenty of books water-damaged, cobwebby or covered in mold, and once someone even brought in a box of books their cat had peed on, saying, "You work in a library! Do you think you can you fix this?" (I didn't have the heart to tell them no... I just snuck the box into the trash once they'd left.) It's heartwarming, in a way, to see how much respect people have for the written word.

Once in a while, after sorting through the usual "junk" that we get, I run across a treasure like this one. Someone must have tucked this away and never used it at all as it's in near perfect condition. Betty Crocker's Cookbook for Boys and Girls was first published in 1957, and it's full of wonderful two-tone vintage illustrations throughout. There are several full-color inserts which have a very saturated technicolor look. Best of all, are the quotes from children that caption the end of recipes. There are a number of quotes from boys eager to assure us that cooking is not too feminine an activity; "Baking is as much fun as my chemistry set. And you can eat what you mix up." - Eric. On a page of cake recipes: "I made one for Dad's birthday. It was Spice Cake with Caramel Fudge Frosting and Dad said it was keen." - Peter. Meanwhile, Elizabeth tells us, "If I were a mama, I'd cook all day."

The recipes actually look pretty good. Only a few of the ingredients looked unfamiliar to me. The recipe for "American Pizza" which the book carefully explains is a kind of "Italian Pie" calls for a half pound of "nippy cheese" whatever that is. A lot of recipes use mixes and other prepared foods to speed things along. A great deal of them feature food decorated to look like smiley faces, which I know I loved as a kid. I found the whole book to be a kitschy pleasure... I think whoever buys it out of our bookstore is in for a real treat.

Sunday, May 3, 2009

Betsy-Tacy Convention

Well, if this isn't the most unique thing I've seen in a while!  It's a convention, July 17-20 in Mankato, Minnesota, completely devoted to the Betsy-Tacy books by Maud Hart Lovelace.  They're hosting games, tours, some discussion panels and Meg Cabot will be guest-speaking.

I've got to admit, I never the read the books when I was a child, but these days they are my very first recommendation to parents who come to me looking for something challenging yet wholesome for their precocious seven or eight year old girls who are strong readers.  I also recommend them for girls who are intrigued by Anne of Green Gables or Little Women but not quite at that reading level yet.  For those voracious readers who have finished all of the Little House books (and the seemingly dozens of Little House spin-off series by other authors) and are looking for more, Betsy-Tacy would be a pretty safe bet.

I can't imagine ever getting out that way anytime soon, but still, it certainly sounds interesting!

Friday, May 1, 2009

Worlds Collide

Enemies and Allies 

Anderson takes us back to Superman and Batman's roots in this action-packed novel set in the late 1950's. I must confess, I haven't read very much of the original DC Comics, always having been a little better acquainted with the Marvel stories. I couldn't help but picture Christopher Reeve though, especially in those scenes where Clark is a nervous bumbler.

I felt Anderson ably rounded out the character of Superman, portraying him as a shy charmer with a big heart. Superman's loneliness as the only surviving member of his planet is emphasized. Even though he always referred to himself in his own thoughts as "Kal-El" he felt equally at ease as Clark Kent. Serious consideration is given to his life as Clark Kent, his honest desire to be a successful newsman, and his genuine attachment to his adoptive mother. And of course, he's klutzy around Lois Lane. He's also earnest to a fault.

Anderson struggles a bit with the character development of Batman, leaning on James Bond cliches to round him out, including having Bruce Wayne drink martinis, drive the same model car and wear the same wristwatch as Bond.

Lex Luthor is depicted as a hard-nosed mafioso, an impetuous and a cold-blooded killer. There's no sly wink that makes him the villain we love to hate, a la Captain Hook to Superman's Peter Pan. Luthor is in bed with the Ruskies, as he cooks up schemes to intimidate and frighten the American populace with faked flying saucers and nuclear threats which will further his business interests. Luthor is quite misogynist and ageist, sending his elderly and female employees to certain deaths working in radiation mines. I was only surprised that Anderson didn't portray him as racist too, but perhaps that was a can of worms that he didn't want to open.

Probably the most surreal were scenes where Bruce Wayne and Lex Luthor meet for business dealings, or where Clark Kent and Jimmy Olson chat with Albert the butler before interviewing Wayne for a newspaper article. Worlds collide!

There are several cameos from several famous world figures of the day, more to remind readers that the book takes place in the 1950’s than anything else.

While the two heroes initially mistrust each other, they quickly realize it will be to their mutual advantage to join forces. Batman is extremely jealous of Superman’s unearthly abilities, having to rely on gadgets himself; but it turns to his advantage when Superman is crippled by a enormous Kryptonite meteor, and the unaffected Batman is able to save the Man of Steel.

While some reviewers will certainly declare this novel another “workmanlike” production, Anderson does strive for deft phrasing, often eschewing simpler terms. In the busy newsroom, Clark Kent focuses on "the sheet of bond rolled into the platen." of his manual typewriter. Cigar-chomping Perry White's office is described reeking of "resinous, pungeunt smoke."

It appears that the book has been through a couple of design changes. The latest version I've seen features a black cover with the iconic Batman and Superman symbols outlined in red. The advance reader copy I read had the same black cover, with the symbols in full color. I’m curious if the back cover will retain the cartoon images of Superman and Batman splayed across it... it certainly sums up the appeal of the book. Those who grew up on Superfriends Saturday morning cartoons as well as teen comic book fans will be glad to return to a universe familiar to them with a fresh twist. Enemies and Allies will be released on May 5, 2009.


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